The Staff Association has made a direct appeal to Senior CSIRO leaders and portfolio Minister Greg Hunt to provide a solution to the CSIRO bargaining stalemate; following the 70 per cent defeat of management’s enterprise agreement offer in the recent all staff ballot.
Writing in an open letter to Chief Executive Larry Marshall, the CSIRO Board and Minister Hunt; Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski described the implication of the result in unambiguous terms.
“The decision of staff is clear: no cuts to current working conditions and rights in the Enterprise Agreement and an expectation of a better deal from CSIRO Executive,” Mr Popovski said.
Highlighting the unique nature of the result – the first rejection of an enterprise agreement offer in recent memory – Mr Popovski laid the blame at the door of the Government’s bargaining framework and management’s adherence to the failed policy.
“This bargaining round has been the most frustrating process that staff have ever experienced. Largely as a result of the application of an unworkable bargaining policy, unsuitable for a scientific organisation and for a dedicated and collaborative workforce.”
Mr Popovski said the challenge for “key leaders and decision makers at CSIRO” was to immediately outline plans to resolve the bargaining impasse, protect CSIRO scientific independence and integrity and improve constructive engagement with the workforce.
Stop passing the buck
A merry go round of competing responsibilities – between CSIRO Executive, the Australian Public Service Commission, portfolio Minister, back to CSIRO Executive, ad infinitum – has damaged staff confidence in overall accountability and oversight, Mr Popovski warned. Even legal interpretations of the legislation governing CSIRO had been drawn into the farce.
“The buck-passing extends to legal interpretations of the Science and Industry Research Act 1949 (The Act). Staff have been told that CSIRO is legally bound through section 13 and the direction of the Minister to apply the bargaining policy. Yet section 32 of the same Act states that ‘The terms and conditions of service (other than in respect of matters provided for by this Act) of officers appointed under this section are such as are determined by the Chief Executive.’”
While declining to “enter into a protracted legal argument on who is ultimately responsible for working conditions in CSIRO, being either the Chief Executive or the Government,” Mr Popovski did note that “there are no references in The Act to the APSC” and called on CSIRO leaders to work on “a simpler path” towards a solution that is a product of genuine bargaining.
Protected working conditions remain paramount
“From the outset, the most important bargaining issue for Staff Association members was the retention of working conditions and rights in the CSIRO Enterprise Agreement,” Mr Popovski said.
“Staff understand why having conditions and rights in an enforceable Enterprise Agreement is important, not just to them but to future generations of CSIRO staff and the organisation as a whole.
Notwithstanding this threshold issue, Mr Popovski said the union remained willing to negotiate.
“Like in previous bargaining rounds, the Staff Association has been willing to negotiate on pay and other outstanding matters once the most important issue is agreed. Clearly this has not occurred to date because of the application and interpretation of the current bargaining policy.”
Ending the impasse
“The Staff Association has written to two Chief Executives, two Board Chairs and three Government Ministers responsible for CSIRO to propose solutions to the bargaining impasse. In total that is eight key decision makers who could have at various points, enabled us to achieve an outcome acceptable to CSIRO staff,” Mr Popovski said, noting that it had been almost 27 months since the nominal expiry of the current agreement.
“The solutions to the bargaining impasse are recognisable and relatively easy to implement. They involve little financial or political cost. Instead, not implementing them continues to cost a lot more in lost scientific productivity and lack of trust and hope in CSIRO’s leadership and future.
“An unambiguous solution is for CSIRO Executive to not apply the bargaining policy. As the bargaining approach of the Government continues to be rejected across the Federal Public Sector, we believe that responsible leaders should fulfil their obligations and do what’s right for CSIRO and staff. Put simply, the policy doesn’t work. It’s counter productive, for CSIRO and for scientific productivity. It should be scrapped,” Mr Popovski said.
“Staff Association representatives will negotiate in good faith before considering our next steps. There are undoubtedly a number of key proposed cuts to conditions and rights that need to be addressed before resolution could be achieved.”
“In coming weeks, we request and hope that CSIRO bargaining representatives will reconvene negotiations and propose a significantly improved position. As a bare minimum, the Staff Association requests that CSIRO representatives include a number of conditions and rights that were in offers to staff in other public sector agencies, but not in this first offer to CSIRO staff,” Mr Popovski said.
Mr Popovski said that while The Fair Work Act 2009 “limits the options available to workers who can’t reach agreement with their employer,” he noted that CSIRO Staff Association members had taken protected industrial action and if future talks did not result in genuine progress, the union would consider whether further action should be undertaken given the clear verdict of staff in rejecting cuts to working conditions and rights.